By will and by force. How the state evicts the poor
The Discovery, 233 p., 22 euros
In 2021, according to the government, 12,000 households were evicted from their homes with the help of the police. It is the use of this “legitimate symbolic violence”, the prerogative of the State, that Camille François’ work is interested in. Through a long field survey, this sociologist retraces what he calls “the chain of expulsion” and immerses us in the daily work of the “little hands of the State”. Supporting sociological methodology, his book sheds light on the paradoxical situation of civil servants, themselves from the working classes, rigorously, even rigidly, expelling precarious tenants.
From the collection service of a social landlord to the prefecture’s evictions office, the researcher meticulously describes the daily life “of a large number of poor families, whose experience constantly alternates between two extreme temporalities: waiting in front of the counters of the social State, and the expeditious treatment of the sovereign State”. From the story of the judgments attended by the sociologist on the bench of the magistrates’ courts, the “inequalities of legal resources between litigants” also surface. Only 3% of tenants – among the survey sample – had recourse to a lawyer as part of their eviction procedure, compared to 81% of landlords.
While it appears to be the last step in the face of unpaid rent suffered by many social landlords and small landlords, the author considers that the choice of eviction is not a “fatality” but an “eminently political reality that should be questioned. Why did the number of evictions – with the use of law enforcement – increase by 164% between 2001 and 2019? In addition to the increase in precariousness, a consequence of the 2008 financial crisis, and the increase in real estate prices over the past twenty years, the main reason for this explosion is, according to the author, a “logic of budgetary economy” encouraged by the Ministry of the Interior.
The goal? Reduce, drastically, the amount of compensation paid to donors by the State if the latter does not respect the two-month deadline incumbent upon it for the execution of public force assistance. Thus, “the increase in evictions is therefore not mainly the result of an evolution in the demands of landlords, who would impose their views on state institutions. It stems from the objective of reducing public expenditure which guides the reform of the State”, assures the sociologist.
We regret that private landlords, who are nevertheless directly concerned both by unpaid rent and by eviction procedures, are the main absentees from the work. To protect them, the author nevertheless proposes the creation of a “universal rental guarantee”. A public fund would serve as a guarantee for landlords and would encourage them to “use conciliation measures” rather than “private insurance which requires the judicial eviction of tenants”. However, this proposal arrives downstream of the problem and cannot reduce “the growing dropout between the level of rents and that of the incomes of the poorest population”. In this sense, Camille François pleads for the establishment of a “real rent control”, the only measure, in his eyes, capable of regulating a certain real estate capitalism that he slays throughout the pages.